Why Does God Allow Evil? By Clay Jones A Review

 

Author

Clay Jones is an associate professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, and the chairman of Ratio Christi, a campus apologetics alliance. He is a former talk show host and has served on the pastoral staff of several large churches. Jones received a BA in Philosophy from California State University, an MDiv from American Theological Seminary, and a DMin from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. (Because of his doctorate and the topic of this book, which is his main area of teaching, I lovingly refer to Clay as “Dr. Evil.)

 

Synopsis

A common complaint from skeptics as well as saints is that there is so much evil in the world. How is this possible if a good and loving God exists? While there are many well-reasoned arguments that show this is not a problem, it is still a challenging topic. It can be especially difficult to discern what is behind the question. Is it intellectual curiosity, skepticism seeking an excuse, or the gut-wrenching reality of the death or suffering of a loved-one. Each kind of questioner needs a different approach. For those in the third category, I would say this book is not for you right now. There is no book on this topic that will really meet your need. You don’t need a book. You need a community of people to come along side you, love you, and hurt with you through this. Go to your community and get the support you need. For those who want an answer, this book is for you. For those hoping to justify your skepticism with the Problem of Evil, I challenge you to read this book with an open mind.

Why God Allows Evil is written from the perspective of a Christian worldview. It offers answers based on what God has revealed in the Holy Bible. If you read this book assuming that Christianity is false, you will find the arguments within meaningless. That would be a great loss.

The book is divided into 11 chapters, with an introduction setting the stage and defining terms. Chapter 1 starts at the beginning, which is to say how evil was actualized by our first parents. Chapters 2 and 3 deal with the question of bad things happening to good people. Chapter 4 deals with the unevangelized, or “if people never hear about Jesus, how is it fair to punish them?” Chapter 5 addresses the fairness of Hell. Chapters 6, 7, and 8 deal with free will and how it plays into these questions. 9, 10, and 11 explain how eternity sets the context for the whole question. The book is then summarized on the epilogue, followed by an appendix that takes a stab at explaining the ultimate origin of evil.

 

Analysis

Having sat under Dr. Jones’ teaching on this material in graduate school, I could hear his voice in my head as I read this book. This was an advantage for me. However, for those who have never met him, it could be a challenge for you. Jones goes to great pains to express his heart for those who are wrestling with these issues, but because of his no-nonsense approach, that might not be obvious. He is offering tough answers to tough questions. Trust me when I tell you, he is giving these answers with a pastor’s heart.

From my studies of these issues under Jones and others, I agree with most of what he has to say in this volume. Jones ascribes almost all suffering and death to Adam’s sin and God’s curse on the earth that resulted. I am a little hesitant to agree. I realize Jones’ view is from what he would call “an unforced reading” of the Biblical data. What gives me pause is the number of things that have been discovered to be beneficial to life on earth that are often shown as examples of “natural evil.” For example, earthquakes, which unfortunately cause thousands of deaths around the world, are the result of a natural process, plate tectonics, that makes earth habitable. Hurricanes have a major role in regulating the climate of the planet. However, in the final analysis, I think Jones nails it. We suffer because of sin, ours and that of others, but our suffering will fade into insignificance in eternity.

This book is accessible to even the high school reader, but not dumbed down such that a reader with an advanced degree would be bored with it. It is a must read. I urge you to read it BEFORE you encounter a crisis..

 

A Practical Guide to Culture By Brett Kunkle and John Stonestreet: A Review

Authors

John Stonestreet is a President of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview and co-author (with William E. Brown and W. Gary Phillips) of Making Sense of Your World: A Biblical Worldview. He holds degrees from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and Bryan College. He is also the cohost of Breakpoint with Eric Metaxas.

Brett Kunkle is the Student Impact Director for Stand to Reason. Brett received his bachelor’s degree in Christian education from Biola University. He has his master’s degree in philosophy of religion and ethics at Talbot School of Theology. Brett was a contributor to the Apologetics Study Bible for Students, has a chapter on truth in Apologetics for a New Generation, and wrote the Ambassador’s Guide to Mormonism.

 

Synopsis

A Practical Guide to Culture is written to help Christians, especially Christian parents, navigate a culture that is growing in its hostility to the Christian worldview. The book is organized into four parts. Part one lays out what culture is and why it is important to understand it. Part two explains how the current culture effects how we see ourselves, through the lenses of technology, identity, relationships and maturity. Part three deals with contemporary sexuality, and can serve as a reference guide. Part four wraps up dealing with the grounding of our Christian worldview.

 

Analysis

Kunkle and Stonestreet offer valuable insights into today’s culture and how to address it as Christians who are called to be “in the world but not of it.” The book is written in a very readable style, with a conversational tone that is accessible to high schoolers and those with advanced degrees alike. If you have children at home, if you hope to have children one day, or if you have any influence on children (or even adults) this book is a must-read.

 

 

 

 

 

The Case for Christ: a Review

Having seen a number of movies produced by Pure Flix, I was a little skeptical in my expectations for The Case for Christ. However, before I had a chance to see it, I saw a number of posts on social media by people whom I respect that suggested this would be worth seeing. As a fan of Lee Strobel, I would have seen it anyway, but I am happy to say that this was an excellent movie. (I suppose it helps that it was grounded in a real life story.)

For those who may not know, Strobel is a graduate of Yale Law School and is currently a Professor of Christian Thought at Houston Baptist University. He is also the author of a book by the same name as the movie, as well as eight other books.

The movie covers the story of Strobel’s (SPOILER ALERT) conversion to Christianity. He had been an atheist who was employed as a reporter for the Chicago Tribune. He was married, and up to this point in his life, his wife share his atheistic beliefs. A crisis caused her to reexamine her beliefs, leading her to become a Christian.

Strobel finds this unacceptable and embarks on a research project to debunk Christianity. He interviews scholars theology, history, archaeology, psychology, and medicine. On the advice of a Christian, he hopes to prove the resurrection never happened.

Knowing Strobel had to have had some input into the making of the movie, I appreciate his honesty in the portrayal. He was not an easy man for his wife to live with. I was also deeply moved by the scenes related to his father’s death.

As the film ended, I said, (as an apologist) “This is why I do what I do.” It also occurred to me that if he hadn’t become famous, those scholars who took so much time to talk to him might never have known how their efforts bore fruit. It can be hard to work at something if you don’t see the outcome, but that is what we are often called to do.

Kudos to Pure Flix for making a good movie.

The Shack: The Good, the Bad, and the Moinks

The Shack, by William Paul Young has sold more than 20 million copies worldwide since its publication in 2007. It has now been made into a major motion picture. Having heard and read many fine reviews of each, I thought I would see the movie for myself and get a sense of it.

Synopsis

The story surrounds the life of a man named MacKenzie Philips, (not toe be confused with the actress by the same name) who grows up with an abusive father who is an elder in his church. He later marries and has three kids. His youngest, his baby, is kidnapped and murdered. In the midst of his grief he meets God. After spending a weekend with the three Persons, he finally comes to some closure on the death of his daughter, as well as the abusive father. He returns home where he begins helping his family heal.

The Good

The way the Problem of Evil is addressed is well done, pointing out that the creation of free creatures entails the possibility for evil and suffering. Moreover, Mac is forced to admit that when he is the judge he cannot pass his own standards. Additionally, he is presented with a situation in which he must choose for one of his children to be saved and another to be damned. His response is to offer himself, and in so doing he comes to better understand the heart of God for the lost.

The love of God is portrayed in a moving way that can inspire the viewer to love God more. (More on this in the Moinks) The whole story is powerful in its emotional appeal. It is so easy to identify with Mac, to feel his pain, and to celebrate the resolution in the lives of sympathetic characters. Who doesn’t love a story where brokenness is healed and reconciliation is attained. I sure do. I won’t say too much about my own emotional reactions lest I be required to surrender my man card.

The Bad

While I understand that the book on which the movie is based is a novel, make no mistake, the author intends to persuade with the book and the movie. In fact, he has since published a nonfiction book, Lies We Believe About God. Unfortunately, what Young wants to persuade you of is that God does not judge, is not in control, and that hell does not exist, that Jesus’ death on the cross had nothing to do with sin. In fact, sin is not even a thing on Young’s view. Young would also have us believe that all are going to be reconciled to God. No need for faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ.  (While some have objected to portraying God as a woman, I don’t think that is such a big deal, especially considering the more serious problems.)

The Moinks

“Okay, wait a minute. What’s a moink?” I’m glad you asked. A moink is a bacon-wrapped meatball coated with a glaze. (Ok, I just had to stop typing to clean the drool off the keyboard.) What have moinks got to do with The Shack? Another great question. In the movie, Mac puts strychnine poison in his father’s booze. (The implication is that he killed him, but that wasn’t 100% clear to me unless I missed an important scene.) The point is that Mac at least tried to poison his father by mixing a toxic substance with something his father liked. Likewise, the dangerously bad theology (any theology that suggests that you have no need to be reconciled to God is dangerously bad) wrapped in such a wonderful story is like putting strychnine in moinks. You would die smiling, but you would die.

Really, the danger of The Shack is an illustration of the danger of taking any form of entertainment in uncritically. We must always think through what we consume with our minds fully engaged. The risk of well-made movies is that the viewer is invited to lose herself in the story. When you do that, ideas are presented in a way that can bypass your reasoning faculties, appealing to your emotions in a powerful way. Emotions are wonderful servants, but terrible masters. If you read the book or watch the movie, do NOT turn your mind off. Remember, we are to love God with all our minds.

 

Bad Design-Of-The-Gaps?

In conversations between proponents and skeptics of Intelligent Design (ID,) there are two recurring themes. Skeptics will often accuse ID proponents of appealing to a “god-of-the-gaps” (GOTG) as an explanation for the phenomena in question. Likewise, examples of alleged bad design are offered as a rejoinder. While it may sometimes be the case that this is intellectually lazy hand-waving, it can also stem from unexamined presuppositions.

 

God-of-the-Gaps

The idea of GOTG is that “we don’t understand how this could be, so God must have done it.” If this was the case, it would be a fallacious argument from ignorance. It isn’t very helpful, and when a natural explanation is discovered, it is often touted as evidence that God does not exist. However, when an ID proponent points to a feature of nature that appears designed, he does so because the feature has properties that are unique to designed things. The icon of the ID movement is the bacterial flagellum. It is a molecular motor that is made of proteins, and probably could not have developed in step-wise fashion. Skeptics point to structures like the Type 3 Secretory System as a possible precursor and declare the design hypothesis “defeated.” However, the real disagreement does not start with these particulars. It begins with the presuppositions.

While some ID proponents are non-theists, many are theists. As such, they do not assume, contrary to most skeptics of ID, that the only minds that exist are associated with, if not identical to, physical brains. As such, for these skeptics, there is no such thing as an unevolved mind. Given that, it is not possible, even in principle, for design to be a valid inference for anything that preceded the emergence of a mind capable of designing. Therefore, living systems that preceded humanity could not have been designed. Moreover, skeptics of ID always look at the data with a “bottom up” approach. This stems from the same methodological naturalism that informs their work. However, for the ID proponent who happens to be a theist, he is working top-down, with a background knowledge of a host of arguments for the existence of God. ID is simply offered as an example of evidence of God’s existence, not as an explanatory hypothesis.

 

Bad Design

Skeptics will also point to what they see as bad designs. This is thought to be a defeater of ID because if an all-powerful, all-knowing God designed these things, he would have done a better job. Examples would include the inverted retina, the proximity of the esophagus to the trachea, and the panda’s thumb. Others have given this a detailed response, but again they are operating from an unexpressed, if not unexamined, presupposition. They are assuming the purpose of the thing in question is to give maximal survival benefit. However, how do they come to this? I think it goes back to the evolutionary paradigm where natural selection is the name of the game. However, they are critiquing a design without examining the purpose for which it was designed. It seems to me you can’t draw valid inferences about the efficacy of a design if you don’t know the purpose. If you look at a hammer, you will thing it is very poorly designed if you think its purpose is to remove dust from glass.

 

To critique a worldview, you must start by examining it on its own terms. Too often the question of God’s existence and involvement in the world is viewed as if the world were a brute reality and, according to theists, God shows up one day and takes over. Or, if God made the world, he made it to be a place where we should have everything we want and live forever. Since it is obvious this is not the case, theism is silly. However, if God made the world, then like any other maker, he had a purpose in mind. If you want to know if a design is a good one, you must know that purpose. Likewise, if you remain ignorant of the arguments for God’s existence, you will continue to think ID proponents appeal to ignorance. How’s that for irony?

 

Improbable Planet by Hugh Ross: a Review

Author

Hugh Ross is an astrophysicist with a PhD from the University of Toronto. He is also the founder and president of Reasons to Believe, a science/faith think tank. In the ongoing conversation between people of faith and those who are not over the philosophy of science, the phrase “god-of-the-gaps” is often tossed around as an accusation against those who hold to some view of divine design or creation. It is claimed that the view is “we don’t know how this came about, so God must have done it.” This dismissal ignores the fact that design proponents who are theists (and not all are) have many lines of argumentation that show the rationality of belief in God. When apparent design is cited as evidence of God’s existence, it is not for the purpose of filling a gap in knowledge, but inferring from what is known. Ross does this very well in his books Creator and the Cosmos, Origins of Life (with Fazale Rana) and Why the Universe Is the Way It Is. In each of these books, Ross addresses how the initial conditions of the universe, the fine tuning of the solar system, and the origin of life are quite consistent with intentional purpose. In Improbable Planet, Ross brings these arguments together to show the whole picture. This is his best work yet.

Using the analogy of a huge construction project, Ross catalogs the steps that must be followed, from producing the materials, to preparing the ground, to laying the foundation, etc, to argue that the universe bears the hallmarks of design for advanced, high-tech civilization.

 

Synopsis

The thesis of the book is that the universe as a whole, and earth in particular, was created for the purpose of redemption: a home for the human race which God would use to defeat evil once and for all. The book is laid out in eighteen chapters. Chapter one lays out point of raising this question. Chapter two describes the results of what the next thirteen chapters would describe. In chapter three, Ross describes how the Big Bang, and subsequent star formation and supernovae produced the necessary building materials. Chapter four shows how rare of a neighborhood a rare planet needs. (Location, location, location.) Chapter five describes the early development of the solar system and the earth-moon system, as well as how these particular conditions make earth a suitable home. Chapter six explains how the interaction of solar system bodies brought about bombardments of the earth that was vital for the life that would later occupy it.

Scientists are frequently announcing the discovery of extrasolar planets. Those who think life must exist elsewhere are looking for planets that could have liquid water on them. They recognize that this is a necessary, though not sufficient condition for life. In chapter seven, Ross notes eight “habitable zones” that must overlap for advanced life to be possible, as well as other conditions. Chapter eight discusses the early origin of life and how it lead to the development of land masses. Here begins the series of life forms that would appear in just the right kinds, and amounts that would prepare the planet for future life forms. Chapter nine through twelve examine how these life forms affected and were affected by the climate, and how they compensated for a changing luminosity of the sun. Chapter thirteen catalogs how the geological and biological history of earth bestowed abundant resources which would be needed for a high-tech civilization. Chapter fourteen walks us through the history of mass speciation and extinction events in earth’s history. Chapter fifteen explains how the ice age cycle has prepared the earth to be able to sustain a population of billions. Chapter sixteen brings us back to the big picture, the why question, and offers an explanation from the Christian worldview.

 

Analysis

As I stated above, I think this is Ross’ best work yet. It lays out his best arguments for design in the universe, the galaxy, the solar system, and the planet. His big picture-to-close up approach, using the construction analogy, is a comprehensive summary of why so many who study these things find confidence in their faith. This book also avoids a lot of unnecessary theological speculation. It can be a little technical for the average lay person, but I think it is worth the effort. I cannot recommend this book more enthusiastically. What readers who may be skeptical need to keep in mind, is that this is a “top down” approach to the question of design. If your starting point is that matter is all there is, you will come away unconvinced. I invite you to read this with an open mind.

 

Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites… and Other Lies You’ve Been Told By Bradley R. E. Wright. A Review

Author

Bradley R. E. Wright has a PhD from the University of Wisconsin, and is Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Connecticut. Wright specializes in research on American Christianity.

 

Purpose/Thesis

In the author’s own words, “The thesis of this book is that Christians are exposed to many inaccurate statistics about our faith. To understand why this happens, we should look at how these statistics are produced and how they spread through the public.” (18) In light of recent headlines and popular books claiming a crisis of image for the American evangelical church, Wright explores the research behind the headlines, and notes a serious disconnect between the facts and the hype. But just in case you really need hype to motivate you, Wright provides it: “You should read this book because ‘there is a deeply disturbing trend of bad statistics that is sabotaging American Christianity and destroying the American way of life, and if you ignore it your entire body will soon be covered with boils. The good news, however, is that if you buy this book and read it carefully, you will avoid this calamity; plus you’ll live longer, have fresh breath, and your kitchen knives will always stay sharp.’”(24) You gotta love a sociologist with a sense of humor.

 

Synopsis

The book is arranged in nine chapters, each exploring an issue that often appears in the popular literature. Chapter one looks at the “if it bleeds, it leads” aspect of the issue. Chapter two tests the rumors of the demise of the American church. Chapter three looks at the alleged exodus of young people from the church. Chapter four analyses popular stereotypes of Christians. Chapter five examines the consistency of Christians’ beliefs and actions. Chapter six focuses on alleged bad behavior of professing Christians.  Chapter seven explores the level of love shown by the church. Chapter eight takes a closer look at how those outside the church see the church. Finally, chapter nine boils it all down to a report card. Several appendixes are included to explain methodology.

 

Analysis

As an apologist, especially one who has attempted campus ministry, I have heard all the claims of “75-80% of young people abandon their faith when they graduate high school.” I have worked with a major campus ministry that repeats (and I assume, genuinely believes) this figure. If Wright is not Wrong (rather than a slam on his name, I am actually trying to mimic Wright’s wonderful style of humor) the picture isn’t nearly so bleak. That being said, one Christian abandoning his faith because he doesn’t have good answers to the challenges he encounters is too many.

Some of the numbers cited make me wish more data was available to better support the inferences drawn. For example, Wright looks at the occurrence of certain sinful behaviors among Christians and non-Christians. It would really be helpful if data was available to show the change in frequency of these behaviors over time. If discipleship was genuine, we would expect the frequency to decrease with time. Questions like “Have you _____ at least once in the last year?” are of limited help. Maybe the respondent would answer yes, but the previous year they did so more often. Likewise, some actions, once done, cannot be undone. Divorce and abortion are examples explored. Wright points out in the case of divorce, it is not known if they happened before or after conversion. Even if it happened after, people grow in their faith and given a chance to do it over again would not.

Finally, Wright notes with disappointment how evangelicals feel about various people whom we are called to love. This is a fair point, but is it necessarily the case that this indicates a deficiency? Could it not be the case that someone would honestly report a less than warm feeling for some group, but be determined to let the love of God drive their behavior toward them rather than their feelings?

 

Recommendation

This book is accessible for anyone with a high school education, but is more suited to those in leadership roles, or interested in such. Wright displays a unique ability to make statistical analysis interesting and even entertaining.